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  • Writer's pictureStephen Paul

Stephen Was Doing His Best - Plasma

Each month we encourage members of the Sunday Alternative to share a little of their lives. May's theme was Help - Stephen spoke on Giving Help and Micheal spoke on Receiving Help. Here is Stephen's brief talk.

"I've given blood for many years. It's easy, quick, say 20 mins, and aside from a 24 hr period of not doing any heavy exercise or drinking alcohol, which is not a big ask, it’s an uneventful yet interesting experience.

Why do I donate? I’m not really sure beyond the obvious of it being a kind act. Perhaps it's a way to help others without the embarrassment of confronting the person receiving the help. Perhaps it's my inner atheist proving that people can do good without reward or threat.

Even those who have not found the courage to donate, and there is a perfectly natural aversion to not being stabbed and having your bodily fluids leak out, have seen the process on TV many times. Although you may not know that after your donation has performed its life-saving deed you receive a Google maps’ link showing your blood's travel history.

Far fewer people have donated plasma. Last year Reading got its own plasma donation centre next to Reading Goal. So with my best arm forward I volunteered.

On entering the centre two nurses took me aside and after both of them poked me like a disappointing piece of stale bread, they agreed that the "Left-arm should be ok.".

I was given a clipboard of documents to study explaining the risks, the use of the plasma, and a questionnaire. You're encouraged to drink a lot.

The medical questionnaire is a little longer than for giving blood but still contained all the potentially embarrassing questions that highlight my lack of sexual and drug adventure. I sometimes apologize to the nurse at the blood donation centre for being so boring.

Blood iron levels are important, more so for plasma, and one small drop of blood is taken with a little punch device. As you await the little machine to give the results you can’t help feeling a little judged. Like all vegans, I feel I represent the whole of the vegan community every time my health is scrutinised. In years gone by Irish blood donators were given half a Guinness to restore their iron levels.

Once they are satisfied with your fitness to donate you are seated in a comfortable bucket recliner chair. Your arm is cleaned with alcohol yet none is given to calm the nerves. And the needle is inserted. I always look away. For plasma donations, all your blood is taken and returned, minus the plasma. The needle has an in and an out channel and therefore is wider than for blood donations. Fear not, you are not sucked dry like some enormous raisin and then reinflated, for the process is a cycle of 'draws' and 'returns'.

The draw is a long process where you constantly flex your hand in a 'where the money' style gesture, to encourage the blood to flow. The large machine to which you are connected has a status bar that indicates the vigour required of you. This is akin to a simple yet intense video game with alarm bells and flashing lights if you fail to maintain that flow. The machine calibrates to your body during the first donation and hence frequently complains.

This is followed by a quicker 'return' phase in which you must relax. The rapid change in pressure can cause the veins in your arm to flap alarmingly. This looks bad but is short-lived. Some feel chilled by the process so there is a heated pad under your arm.

This oscillation of draws and returns continues for around 40-60 mins.

Finally, you are the proud parent of a bag of warm light brown plasma. After a rest period, to guard against dizziness, you are obliged to have children’s party-style snacks and drinks. These are exactly the same treats as for giving blood, so it's a bit disappointing - I was hoping for pizza or curry for my greater efforts.

When fit, you are discharged and your life continues and your body rapidly replaces the given plasma.

According to The NHS Blood and Transplant Service 'Medicines made from plasma save and transform the lives of over 17,000 people in England each year. ' They need more donators.

The second donation was a walk in the park and I spent most of the time chatting with the nurses about philosophy and racism.

What does plasma actually do? I can’t really remember - you can look it up - but when people need help it's not really for the giver to know or quiz the one in need or make a judgment on their worthiness, all that is required for you is to know they need help. " See if you can give plasma:

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